Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Most Doctors Would Refuse a Feeding Tube For Themselves; Why Do They Place Them So Often?

Dr. Kirsch from MDWhistleblower has a new post on feeding tubes:

Last week, I was asked by a primary care physician to place a feeding tube in an NNHP, a nonagenarian nursing home patient. The patient had a panoply of active medical issues, and was at the end of life. The feeding tube was advised because the patient’s swallowing function was impaired and he was, therefore, at risk for pneumonia if he ate. These swallowing evaluations are generally performed by speech pathologists, whom I have found to be dedicated and competent professionals. As an aside, they often uncover swallowing defects that suggest that eating regular food may be unsafe, even though I suspect that these ‘defects’ were present for several years. Somehow, these patients ate regular food and survived.

As the patient was not capable of providing informed consent, I contacted the patient’s legal guardian, who is his grandson and a physician. While I was hoping that he would decline the tube and opt for comfort care, he was adamant that the tube be placed. I did so on the following day. Yesterday, a day after the tube was placed, he died, not from a complication of the procedure, but because he had reached the end of his life.

In 20 years, I’ve place over a hundred feeding tubes, primarily in elderly and demented individudals. In most of these cases, I serve as a technician. I am not consulted for my advice on whether a feeding tube is in a patient’s interest, but am asked to insert one after the decision has already been made. More than any other gastro procedure I perform, placing these tubes, called PEGs by physicians, is the most troubling. There is no question that gastroenterologists like me are placing more of these tubes than are medically necessary. Over the past few years, several
medical papers have documented that providing tube nutrition for patients at the end of life, or with advanced dementia, provides no benefit. It does not prolong or improve life for many of these patients. Why, then, do we do it so often?

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